Monday, March 30, 2009

The Irish Times Archives

In honor of their 150 anniversary The Irish Times has made available on their website digital versions of certain past editions. Sharon and I spent some time Saturday reading a personal account of the 1916 Easter Rising and it's fascinating. Sharon walks to work through many of the neighborhoods mentioned in the article, and it's thrilling to recognize the streets and areas. Also in the archive are articles on the assassination of President Lincoln (page three news in Ireland), the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (page 9) and the first Transatlantic flight (which landed in County Galway near Clifden--we visited the monument to the landing when we were there last year).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dimanche matin est facile

We spent Sunday morning (Feb 15) at an excellent food market. We bought some Roquefort and Gruyere cheeses and found several things to nibble on. Bill stocked up on cans of various duck parts and some amazing salt. We had brunch for lunch at a place in the Le Marais and then we strolled around the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. We ate some pastries by the Seine. Everyone else was eating ice cream, and you're supposed to eat ice cream, but it was a little cold for ice cream.

We stopped back by Notre Dame during Vespers and enjoyed some lovely vocals and the booming pipe organ. We quenched our craving for steak frites. The next morning we walked around a bit, visiting the Arc and the Champs Elysee once more. Around noon we hopped on the subway for our ride to Charles De Gaulle. Au Revoir Paris. Til we see you again.

Foreground: Bill; Background: Notre Dame

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Valentine's Day in the City of Romance

Our first stop on Valentine's Day was the Rodin museum. Nothing is more romantic than a large, naked man pondering the very meaning of life. In reality, The Thinker represents Dante as he ponders the fate of all characters in their various levels of hell. Even The Kiss, which seems appropriate for Valentine's, is a statue of an adulterous couple from the series inspired by Dante whose kiss condemns them to the inferno.

Saturday's crisp, sunny morning was perfect for exploring Rodin's sculpture garden. We were particularly impressed by the faces on the Burghers of Calais. I liked seeing some of the studies for the Victor Hugo sculpture as well.

After Rodin, we walked to the Latin Quarter and found a recommended Vietnamese restaurant for some Pho and Bun preceded by spring rolls and dumpling appetizers. Bill's pho came with some interesting bones.

After lunch we stopped by Notre Dame. The cathedral is the setting for a romantic story about a hunchback and a gypsy girl named Esmeralda, although that story doesn't end well. It's a beautiful cathedral. We didn't stay long though. We wanted to check out the Louvre on our 2-day museum pass.

The Louvre's reputation as a must-see sometimes competes with its tendency to be overcrowded and overwhelming. The crowds were small in February, but the museum was indeed overwhelming. After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, we decided to take the easy way out and head straight for Mona.

The Mona Lisa is actually quite lovely, and has captured people's imagination for generations. That's pretty romantic! We also stopped by to see the Venus de Milo. She's looking a little rough, but at almost 2,000 years old she still has many admirers. She is the goddess of love, after all. Romantic.

Saturday evening we visited the Eiffel Tower. The tower is a popular Valentine's Day destination. We arrived around 7:30 and waited a little more than an hour in the chilly weather for our tickets. I told Bill I was a bit suspicious--Eiffel Tower on Valentine's day. I thought he might propose! (Turns out a woman from my office did get engaged at the tower that night.) We were on the first platform around 20 minutes and then ascended to the top. The view was great, but the wind on the open platform was fierce! Luckily there is an enclosed portion as well. Here we are atop the tower. Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dinner in Paris

A highlight of our trip to Paris was dinner at Guy Savoy. Guy Savoy has been named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world by Restaurant Magazine and holds three Michelin stars. And, coincidentally, it was located across the street from our hotel.

Despite some apprehension about dining at a French restaurant, let alone one of the top restaurants in Paris, we did not encounter any of the cliches of French dining--snooty waiters, tiny portions, snails. We were able to be seated and order a glass of champagne for cocktail in French, but then the staff recognized our bewildered expressions and switched to English. Our head waiter, Hubert, helped us select three courses, a kind of Guy Savoy's greatest hits. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Hubert said, and Guy Savoy has artichoke soup.

Even while we were still mulling the menu, we were served a few tiny forks of pâté and toast. The champagne we were drinking was phenomenal with strong honey flavors. We have no idea of the champagne vintner, I suspect it exists only in the magical world of Paris dining. After the pâté, we were served a small glass of mushroom soup and a mushroom tasty bit. The bread cart stopped by and gave us a selection of baked goods to try, along with recommendations for which butter, salted and unsalted, to use with each bread. Our first course was sea bass with mushroom and ribs of swiss chard in a sauce with sweet spices and vanilla, garnished with fried seaweed. The bass was perfectly cooked with crispy skin (with scales!), overall a mild dish that rested well in the spices with cooling mint and a bit of pepper. Next came the artichoke, black truffle and parmesan soup--a Guy Savoy signature dish. The soup is served with a black truffle brioche roll with truffle butter. The waiter suggested we dip the brioche into the soup--no fussiness here! The soup was sublime. I'm not sure what makes a bowl of green liquid taste so perfect, so scrumptious, but this soup was a joy to eat. The funkiness of artichoke and black truffle are tamed and perfected here, and the truffle brioche was delish. (I'm going to suggest Sister Schubert consider moving into truffles.)

Our main course was a roasted veal chop carved table side--very young! Hubert said--served with pureed potatoes with black truffle, veal stock, button mushrooms and tiny carrots. This dish felt more French Provencal than haute cuisine. Immensely satisfying, this veal was as Bill says, "a delicious hunk of meat," a lovely pink all the way through. The portions were generous, and the waiter brought more potatoes and sauce mid-course.

I may get the progression a bit muddled here, but I can you that between the veal and our ordered dessert we enjoyed an Earl Grey sorbet, a visit from the cheese cart, two ice cream lollies, and a slice of hazelnut and chocolate cake. Thankfully our desserts were both citrusy and refreshing. I had a grapefruit terrine with Earl Grey sauce (they really like to sneak in the tea!) and Bill had a collection of blood orange textures including blood orange sorbet, wafers and jam in a warm blood orange saffron sauce.

Then, Hubert came by with the dessert cart with a selection of mousse, sorbets and rice pudding with various topping such as spiced plums in wine and chocolate biscuits. Around this time we ordered espressos, which came with a few more chocolate bits. And with the bill, a sliver of apple pie. We definitely did not leave hungry.

The food at Guy Savoy was wonderful, but Guy Savoy's staff largely contributed to our memorable meal. Our wine choice was tasted and decanted by the wine steward before we were served. Our water glasses and bread plates were kept full. We were attended to but not menaced. Guy was very present in the dining room. Everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time, and it was fun to watch the staff at work as the restaurant got busier. Hubert took our picture at the end of the meal, "We don't say 'Cheese,' he said, 'We say 'Charcuterie!'"